The Utah Jazz continued their domination of the Golden State Warriors, and Tuesday night's game was reminiscent of the playoffs. High scoring, fast running, and the Jazz were able to make some defensive stops when the Warriors couldn't.
Deron Williams continues to show why he should have been an All-Star this year. After setting a new record in the Skills challenge, he had 29 points, 12 assists, 2 rebounds, 2 steals and 2 blocks. He's the real MVP of the team. Carlos Boozer's great, but when he's injured, Paul Millsap can step in the starting line-up and have an 18-point 10-board night. If the Jazz had to strictly rely on Ronnie Price and Jason Hart for PG production, they'd have a much tougher road. I think AK would play point-forward for chunks of that.
The Jazz's trouble is that they play in the ten-team West, where every loss is costly, where there's less than five games difference between 1st and 9th place, and 9th place could end the season with 50 wins.
My Western Power Rankings:
1. LA Lakers
3. San Antonio
7. New Orleans
9. Golden State
13. LA Clippers
Despite Kobe's pinky injury, I see the Lakers as the most dangerous team in the playoffs. Pau Gasol's integration has been seamless, and Bynum's coming back soon from injury. A front-court of Fisher, Bryant, Odom, Gasol and Bynum is formidable, and Farmar & Walton are the second-unit sparks. Plus Phil Jackson is a master at working playoff referees.
Second is Utah due to them being 19-3 since the Korver trade.
Third is San Antonio because they're defending champs, and despite their regular season struggles, they are Old Faithful in the playoffs.
Fourth is Phoenix. Shaq is a major wild card, but the Suns were the best team in the NBA before the trade. Barely.
Fifth is Dallas. I don't necessarily believe Kidd makes them better talent-wise, but he probably makes them mentally tougher. He can soothe Dirk's fragile psyche by saying "Follow me. I've been to the Finals twice."
Next is Houston due to their winning nine straight.
Next is New Orleans due to their record and the dynamic duo of Paul and West. Their thin bench makes me doubt how far they could go in the playoffs.
Next is Denver. They need a trade if they want to get out of the second round. Artest is the main rumor, but I can't imagine a locker room with AI, Melo, Kenyon, JR Smith and Artest. Too many egos, and George Karl isn't known for managing egos.
I believe the seventh and eighth spots will come down to three teams - Houston, Denver and Golden State, and I see GS as the loser, finishing 49-33, which is tragic. They'd be the third seed in the East with that record.
Portland had a nice run there, and they will be a force next year with Greg Oden and another lottery pick in the line-up. They'll be a force for the next decade. But not this year. They need San Antonio and Phoenix and Dallas to get a year or two older.
Sacramento is throwing in the towel and starting over. Artest is being shopped. Trade deadline's in a few hours.
The LA Clippers need to make a move. Corey Maggette should have been traded last year. Granted, Elton Brand's been out all year, but their other weaknesses have truly been exposed without him.
Minnesota, Seattle and Memphis are rebuilding, and the latter two may move to different cities in the next couple years. The NBA should really retract a team, but they'll never do that.
Meanwhile in the East, there's Boston and Detroit who will play in the Eastern Conference finals, and then Orlando and Toronto and Cleveland are nice, and then there's a bunch of teams who'd rather go to the lottery, but someone has to fill those other seeds. Atlanta made the move they needed to and traded to get Mike Bibby. Should be good enough to get them in, even if they finish 38-44. Philly's hanging on to Andre Miller because they see they might get in.
Why is Isiah Thomas still employed? Even Spike Lee drank the Zach Randolph Kool-Aid. Honestly though, I think a good coach could get that very roster to the playoffs.
New Jersey is actually better off in the long run now that they have Devin Harris and some draft picks to play with. If they can get rid of Vince Carter, they'll be on their way.
LeBron's blood has to boiling that the West has made all these moves, and Boston beefed up over the summer, and management can't get him any help.